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6 reasons why salt is added to food

Salt functions in a variety of ways to make food more presentable – both visually and for taste, but there are a few other reasons it’s added to premade foods (and sprinkled so liberally by us).

One small thing: A simple way to reduce your salt intake is to check food labels – choose products that have less than 300mg of sodium per serving.

Our bodies needs sodium to survive, but too much of it is definitely not good for long-term health. Read more about that conundrum here. There is also a distinction between sodium and salt. Sodium is a mineral found naturally in almost all foods, while salt contains about 40% sodium and is added to foods.

So, what is it about salt?

1. Salt adds and enhances flavour

Salt makes bland foods, like pasta, more palatable and helps bring out the natural flavour in other food. Interestingly, in low concentrations, salt can intensify sweetness, so it’s sometimes sprinkled over fresh fruit or added to caramel.

2. Salt acts as a preservative

Salt has been used as a natural preservative for centuries. By inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria, it keeps meat, fish, dairy products and many other foods from spoiling. Salt still plays an important role in food hygiene.

3. Salt is a binding agent

When salt is added to processed meats, it acts as a binder by forming protein gels. This helps hold the product together and give it a smooth, firm texture.

4. Salt makes food look good

Salt reduces the destruction of sugar in the dough of baked goods – this results in caramelisation and that golden colour in bread crusts we find so appealing.

5. Salt adds texture

Salt affects the rate of fermentation and gluten formation when yeast is used in baking, improving the product’s final texture. By strengthening the gluten in the dough, salt helps it expand without tearing.

Large salt crystals are also added to different products to provide a crunchy texture. (Anybody for pretzels?)

6. Salt helps control fermentation

Salt controls fermentation in baked products by slowing down the growth of bacteria, yeast and moulds. This is important in making a uniform product and reducing the opportunity for harmful bacteria to develop.

In cheese, salt controls the rate of lactic acid fermentation and helps assure the dominance of the desired flora, which helps flavour and texture to develop.

While salt is necessary for many reasons, our food today contains way too much of it. Here’s how you can reduce your intake for optimum health.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.

References:
https://www.saltassociation.co.uk/education/salt-health/role-salt-cooking/
https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/sodium-reduction
https://foodinsight.org/ific-review-sodium-in-food-and-health/
https://www.thespruceeats.com/functions-of-salt-in-food-1328615